Wrapping up the Holiday Reading Challenge 2012

I was looking forward to catching up on my holiday romances.  And according to BLI's Holiday Reading Challenge 2012, I'm still a Candy Cane-aholic, but I still didn't finish my original list...  (The good news is that I'll have plenty of holiday romances to read for next year...)

Run-down / Re-cap (also put some reviews on Goodreads too):

The Inconvenient Duchess - by Christine Merrill.  For Bebe's book club.  A pleasant surprise!  (I never knew that HQ historicals could be so great.)

Season for Surrender - by Theresa Romain.  For SBTB Sizzling Book Chat.  Freakin' Awesome.  This one is DEFINITELY good for year-round, and I think this had my favorite heroine (blue stocking!) of the bunch.

Holiday Sparks - by Shannon Stacey.  LOVED this one.  At a "novella" size, this one is my new "comfort-read" recommendation for anyone asking about contemporaries.

Switched - by HelenKay Dimon.  LOVED this one - excellent action with great narration!  (Think Die Hard  + Romance = Holiday page-turner)  My first HelenKay Dimon book (and it's an HQ Intrigue!) and I love her character development and true-life-y-ness in the dialogue.  I found myself equally torn between the hero and the heroine's conflict, and I feels it's best when I really can't pick sides in the argument.

Christmas Conspiracy - by Robin Perini.  (Hilarious and campy action... but due to awful real-life timing, I didn't finish this one.  Maybe next year?)

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor - by Lisa Kleypas.  Bust out the tissues (and then bust out another box if you watch the Hallmark Movie version - Christmas with Holly) because it's so damn heartwarming.  Lisa Kleypas's books could save the world.

We'll Be Home for Christmas - by HelenKay Dimon.  I'm officially a HelenKay Dimon fan.  She rocks.  Another SOLID heroine who doesn't take crap and makes the right choices that keep her satisfied.  Again, HelenKay nailed the dialogue and conflict in this one.  (Like watching a heartwarming tennis match - and then the opponents bone at the end!)

A Baby for Christmas - by Joanna Sims.  Good debut author.  IF she does another HQ book, I'd give it a shot.  She does a great job with tension/build-up.  But... I'm not gonna lie ... some of the Marine references were just flat-out wrong/incorrect - HOWEVER - not all readers/authors have a Marine on-hand (lol, Hi sweetie, I love you) to ask questions and fact-check for specifics while writing/reading the USMC/Military romances.  Even above that - I enjoyed this one.

The Spirit of Christmas - by Liz Talley.  This one was the MOST Festive ("Christmas-y") of the bunch.  I was tentative because this is my first HQ Super Romance, but now I know why it's such an awesome imprint:  Heavy on "the feel-good" but still includes very believable (and SUPER sexy) chemistry between the characters.  Or is this just Liz Talley?  (This one made me feel like I was actually in New Orleans during Christmas.)  PLUS - it's not just the romance, but it's also about the "giving" and caring for others on a human level and helping those in need.  If I'm ever feeling especially Grinchy (and I need a little Christmas right this very minute) then this will be the holiday romance of choice.

Happy 2013.

Now, to set up that 2013 Goodreads reading challenge...

(Hmmm... maybe one of my resolutions should be to finally finish Nora Roberts' Savor the Moment... No.  Nope, it's always going to stay there.  Ugh.)


Escaping into My Romances

Revised a post for Heroes & Heartbreakers this weekend, then retreated into my romances.  
Didn't want to read Christmas Conspiracy.  (Too violent at the moment.)  
Did not turn on the TV.  Avoided all news.  

Visited Jane and discussed romances.  She's all, "Oh, I think I've got a romance novel around here somewhere," and then homegirl pulls out a first-edition copy of Jude Deveraux's Knight In Shining Armor (with the Old Skool cover). Color me impressed.  A lot of romance readers have that on their Desert Island Keeper list.  I downloaded the book to throw-in to my Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge.  (Maybe 50 books?)

Another bright note:  I was lucky enough to receive a free copy (as a gift from the author herself) of HelenKay Dimon's We'll Be Home for Christmas.  (I had a mini-fangirl moment at work and had to collect myself with controlled breathing.)

So many more books to finish for the 2012 Holiday Reading challenge...  I'm hoping I can finish 5 more books before 12/24.  The flights between D.C. and Cali should help with that, not including when I'm awake with any jetlag early in the morning.

Going to hit the hay with my nook, and I can't wait to see my family for the holidays.


Obligatory 12/12/12 post


It MUST have been some astrological 12/12/12 madness... 

Because MacGruber Christmas Conspiracy is actually holding my attention...  

I've already decided that nothing will surprise me at this point, so I don't want to say anything interesting or unexpected happened.

And I'm still finding the gems, but not "stumbling" on them:

With a single swipe Logan laid the man on the ground with a Taekwondo move. [sic]

... and I'm thinking:

However, aside from the gems, we find out the following:
  • The Mexican "abuelita"/babysitter character sold out the heroine to the bad guys
    (due to bribery and/or threats - ¡Escandaloso!)...  
  • And said bad guys even planted "bugs" in the kids' toys...  
  • The hero finally decides to ditch the SUV (for a station wagon)...
  • And the hero tells the heroine that he wasn't home (three years ago, when she stopped by to tell him she was pregnant - the root source of her anxiety/bitterness) - because he was in a  German hospital... WITH A COMA.  So he didn't really "abandon" her after all - HA!

I might be semi-hooked.  By semi-hooked, I mean that my commute home was quicker and I almost missed my Metro stop (not just because of an incredibly grueling day at work).  And I actually "see myself" finishing this book...


when judging a book by it's cover goes wrong

A confused Captain America "Chris Evans" (with a background explosion)

I am admitting right now that the cover sold me on this one.

Harlequin Intrigue is not the romance I normally reach for - but I thought, This will be so intensely action-packed, but in a campy sort of way!

I grabbed the book with both hands and said "CHRISTMAS CONSPIRACY!" in a super-gritty movie-voice.
In public.  (Yes, I was at my B&N, but it was okay because no one else hangs out in my romance section except for this one kid who quietly reads a massive stack of manga.)

I showed this to Mike when I got home - and I know he's my soulmate, because when I read the back description (while holding the cover in front of him) he screeched at the top of his lungs - "MAC GRUBER!!" - And that's exactly how I thought this book would be! - Fast car chases, bombs, aviator sunglasses, and saving the world with Careless Whispers playing in the background!

Just three pages into the first chapter, and holy crap - this is taking forever...

Concerned that all HQ Intrigues would be like this, I opened HelenKay Dimon's Switched on my nook.  Sweet relief!  (Switched was great! Review coming soon!)  I'm done with Switched, but I feel compelled to "finish" MacGruber before I keep passing it up...

I just passed that 50-page mark (after a lot of eye rolls)... where is sexy action? Explosions? etc.  So far we only have the hero and heroine on the run (dragging their two toddlers along - whom daddy JUST met today! Yippee!), and then little gems like THIS stall the momentum of the book:

Hero -  "I'm checking the SUV for bugs.  Get them out of their car seats."   [He means he's checking the SUV for planted listening-devices, not creepy-crawlies, AND take the kids out of their seats.]

(They discuss how the kids aren't potty-trained.  Great.)

Heroine - "What are you looking for?" - "as she quickly changed both kids, then sat them down on a blanket with juice boxes and a snack."

No, I shit you not.  As they were fleeing her house from the terrorists/murderers/kidnappers - mom had time to grab diapers, a blanket, juice boxes, and a snack...

And here's me:

She sings to them "softly to keep them entertained".
And then he decides to throw out their cell phone and GPS...

What?!  WHAT.  (Is this what mom's want to read in their contemporary Intrigue romances?  No, really - because I don't know these things! - and the above is only ONE example.)  Did she have some Juicy Juice, Teddy Grahams, and Huggies all lined up on a counter ready for her to arm swipe into a massive Vera Bradley duffle bag?

Why couldn't they just drive like hell some more? - OR find a new getaway car?  One that isn't a big flashy SUV.  And while you're at it - time to change your appearance ASAP!  Stop by a CVS and pick up some Clariol Natural Instincts (in any random poo-brown shade, because she's already blonde, and red/ginger would attract attention), then do a gas-station sink dye-job.  Right?

But alas, I'm not the one writing the book.  This is not my Intrigue to tell.  150 pages to go.
All those gems waiting to be discovered/read...

(I can handle grad school, I can handle boring-ass white-papers, and I can handle this... maybe?)

To Be Continued...(?)


Holiday Sparks (by Shannon Stacey)

He gave her a slow but somehow very naughty smile.  "Only very bad girls lie to their mothers."
She was in so much trouble.

Holiday Sparks (by Shannon Stacey)
Conflict: (???) I mean, there isn't really a TRUE conflict (or at least one that would cause any distress).  They like each other, but they're both too scared to take it beyond just "hooking-up".  Extremely realistic conflict that many readers could appreciate.  He (Scott) works/lives in Maine, and she (Chloe) works/lives in Boston.  They decide to have a Christmas Fling for three weeks (Fa la la la la!) but then they actually fall completely in-love with each other, so the "long-distance issue" begins to plague their minds...

The Happily Ever After falls into place perfectly!  And not in a fake deus-ex-machina sort of way, but more like when you're playing Tetris, and you get that super-long rectangle piece after stacking up your wall seven rows deep... When it finally hits, you're like, "Yes!  I was waiting for that!"  It's so realistic and satisfying.  No secret baby.  No amnesia.  No jerkface villains.  Just two people reconnecting and falling in love during the holidays.  Sparks fly throughout the pages!

Why do I empathize with this heroine:  Because she falls in love with the guy who was the dork in high school (who turns into a major hot stud, but he's still an "Average Guy" with a good blue collar job and a lovable German Shepherd dog named Kojak).  I like that Chloe willingly decides to choose happiness and love over the Metropolitan lifestyle (mainly the ability to order Crab Rangoon at 3 a.m.).  And she's a freelance designer, so physical location inside the city isn't an issue if she can work remotely... from Scott's bed.  Plus, she is honest with herself and decides to profess her love to Scott - at the same time he decides to profess his love to her.  No manipulative games, no selfishness, and no whining.  She's an all-around great heroine.

Overall:  It's on my keeper shelf.  Not just a holiday read, but really, it's versatile enough for all-seasons.  The story is so cute, I found myself grinning like an idiot quite a bit, and I can see why this holiday novella is well-praised.  This would be a perfect recommendation for any romance fan - and I'll go as far to say that this could also convert non-romance fans (who ask you for romance recommendations) because the characters/flirting/feelings are that realistic.  This can easily be polished off in a day (or even half a day if you're a quick reader).

Things I LOVED:
  • Perfect page count (quick read!)
  • Perfect amount of characters
  • Perfect characters
  • revisiting the awkwardness of high school  (ack!!)
  • Kojak
  • All the diner scenes
  • The scene where they both admit this is more than just a fling...

NOTE:  I'm counting this as book 3 for the Holiday Reading Challenge 2012, since it's during the Christmas season, but like I mentioned, it can be read at any time of the year.


I'm so excited, I can't even organize this post...

OhmyGod ohmyGod ohmyGod ohmyGOD.

(Yes, this is serious.  I spelled out OMG, and used a big "G".)

(Let me explain.)

The first romance series I ever read, back in 2005 (like I picked it up of my own volition at B&N - not from a recommendation or review - just for sheer curiosity desperation for another romance to read) was Celeste Bradley's The Spy, from her Liar's Club series.  I thought, "Hey, this cover is nice and the description on the back isn't so bad..."  After blasting through it in two days, I struck romance gold.  It was book #3 in her series, and it made me go out and buy the remaining books, including the four follow-up books in the continuing/sequel series.

Back to my hyperventilating point:  There was a mysterious wounded-hero character named Ren Porter, and he such a vibrant character (even if he was barely there for a few pages in the series), that many of Celeste's fans were asking, "When is Ren going to get his own book?!"

January 29th, 2013 is that day.

How did I stumble upon this juicy (re)discovery?  I was surfing through B&N's site (on Jules's Romance Picks) and saw Celeste Bradley's Fallen, from there I saw her book, When She Said I Do... This is what I found:

When She Said I Do
by Celeste Bradley 

"Caught in a rainstorm, Miss Calliope Worthington takes shelter in a seemingly abandoned mansion. But when she finds a string of pearls in a dusty chest, she is caught red-handed by the house’s reclusive owner - Mr. Ren Porter - a fiery demon of a man who demands that Callie pay for the necklace…with her innocence.

When he first lays eyes on the beautiful trespasser, Ren mistakes her for an angel. But when he realizes Callie is a thief, he strikes a bargain she cannot refuse. She must take his hand in marriage and pay him back in full: one night of passion for each stolen pearl. But when Callie surrenders to his desires—night after wicked night—he awakens something deep inside of her. Something powerful and passionate. Like a fairy tale come true, the monster she married has become the man she loves…when she said I do."

Celeste Bradley is one of those authors who changed the way I read romances (we're talking a PROFOUND impact on my "romance literacy").  I know I need to go back and do a re-read of her books, but sweet merciful baby Jesus, I CANNOT sit still about this... Rainstorms, necklaces, thieving angels, and passionate demons - REN!!!

My reaction: